The World Meeting of Families; a non event?

It is just over a month to the gathering in Dublin for the World Meeting of Families. My impression at this stage is that, if Pope Francis was not coming, it would pass by quietly, not making much, if any, impression — a fairly inconsequential non-event. But Francis will add his own form of charisma to the week. I am really pleased that he is coming, and I have booked my ticket for the Phoenix Park.
We are already familiar with the controversies around the organising of the WMOF, the various adjustments that were made to the promotional material, and the total failure to explain why these changes were made. It left questions as to who exactly was calling the shots, and to what extent right wing groups, with plenty of money, were pulling strings in the background. Diarmaid Martin’s failure to deal adequately with these issues has shown up his lack of real leadership, which those of us working for Church Reform have known for a long time.

The organisers of the event have had particular difficulty trying to cope with the reality of family life in Ireland, with all its diversity, and how to represent that at the meeting, or, to be more accurate, how to avoid such representation. In light of the same-sex marriage referendum, and the wide acceptance of same-sex marriage in Irish society generally, this issue more than others has caused them difficulty, and has shown up the organisers inability to deal adequately with such matters. We now know that there won’t be be any same-sex couple speaking at the event, or present in any prominent way. (I never really expected that there would!) They seemed to have pulled off a smart move by inviting James Martin to come and speak. James is a good man, who has written quite a mild book about the need for a better relationship between LGBT people and the Church. But even then the organisers had to balance him by bringing along an extremely conservative politician from Italy, Rocco Buttiglione, again raising the suggestion that they are constantly looking over their shoulders at the conservative groups. A suggestion was made to the organisers that they invite Sr. Jeannine Gramick to come and lead a prayer service at the event. (For those who don’t know of her, Jeannine, a wonderful woman and a religious sister, has worked all her life to bring about a greater acceptance of LGBT people in the Catholic Church, and is a founder of New Ways Ministry.) That would have been an excellent thing to do. Jeannine’s presence would have meant a great deal to the LGBT community. She is a woman of great integrity, and would have led a beautiful service, without in any way using it for political or campaigning purposes. But once again the organisers missed a great chance to send out an inclusive message. I wonder who was making that decision.

Along with my work with the ACP, I am also involved with the lay Church reform movement, We Are Church. This group applied some five months ago for a presentation stand at the Meeting, and duly paid the twelve hundred and fifty euro that had to go with the application, which amounted to half of the two and a half thousand charged for a stand. Since then the committee of WAC had phoned at lease once a fortnight, have written to Diarmaid Martin and the organisers (no reply from the Archbishop), and, in every way they could, tried to get an answer to their request for a stand, but without any success. Now, since the final date for allocating stands has passed, we have cancelled the cheque, and accepted that We Are Church are not welcome at this supposedly ‘inclusive’ event. Nothing about this surprises me. But what is really pathetic is the failure of anybody, the Archbishop, Cardinal Farrell, or whoever is making decisions, to at least give an answer to the request of We Are Church. If they don’t consider us to be suitable tenants for a stand during this gathering, would they at least have the good grace to tell us that, and to give us their reasons. Refusal to even deal with the request, to give no answer one way or the other, and no explanation, is a sign either of great inadequacy or great cowardice.

I have no expectation of anything worthwhile coming out of the World Meeting of Families, apart from the visit of Pope Francis, which I sincerely hope will go very well. He deserves no less.